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The Moon

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Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11

The Moon (Luna) is the Earth's solitary natural satellite, roughly 385,000 km away. It has roughly 38,000,000 km² of surface area, and is not believed to harbor any life.



The first spacecraft to land on the Moon was the Soviet Luna 2 in 1959, which had no passengers. The first person to set foot on the Moon was Neil Armstrong, an American astronaut on the Apollo program in 1969.

Only 24 lucky souls have ever flown to the Moon during nine American missions from 1968 to 1972 (though you'd be wise not to mention that to the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, especially Commander Jim Lovell, who flew there twice without landing.) Of those 24, only 12 of them landed and walked on the Moon. All 24 were men, so the status of "first woman on the Moon" is open for the taking if you have the money and the drive.


The lunar landscape has features called maria (MAH-ree-uh; Latin plural, singular mare pron. MAH-ray) which are darker features once mistaken by earthly observers for "lakes" and highlands. Besides that, there are a lot of impact craters as there is next to no erosion that would reduce their prominence over time. Close to the poles there are "mountains of eternal sunshine" and "valleys of eternal darkness" which occupy positions that are either permanently bathed in sunlight or permanently dark. Potential future missions might use them for a reliable source of solar energy or reliable cool storage respectively and it is hoped that ice (for use as drinking water or fuel) might be found in a relatively easy-to-access way in some of the colder spots.


Because the Moon has no atmosphere and rotates very slowly, it experiences extreme temperature variations depending on whether or not the sun is out. Apollo astronauts' ships and spacesuits were well insulated and had internal temperature regulation systems.

Get in[edit]

The Moon has had no human visitors since the end of the Apollo program in 1972. Unmanned missions ended in 1976 (Soviet Union, Luna 24 probe), only resuming at the end of 2013 (China, Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover).

Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa are planning the #dearMoon project to take a group of six to eight artists around the Moon on a BFR spacecraft, with the goal of inspiring the artists to create art about the trip when they return to Earth. The journey is tentatively planned for 2023, but the company has a history of making ambitious plans and then delaying or canceling the. This wasn't the first time they announced a tourist trip around the Moon, and the previous one didn't happen—so it remains to be seen whether they'll stick to the schedule. If the trip does happen, Maezawa, who plans to go on the trip with the artists, will become the first paying tourist to travel around the Moon. He hasn't yet decided who to bring, so if you're an artist and you want to see the Moon up close, this could be your chance. The trip will take 4–5 days, and it won't land on the Moon, instead simply looping around it and coming back to Earth. At its closest point, the spacecraft will be 200 km (125 miles) away from the Moon.

Several space agencies have proposed manned missions to the lunar surface in the 2020s.

If you cannot get into space, you can still see the Moon from Earth; see Astronomy.

Get around[edit]

Lunar Roving Vehicle

Conventional aircraft are useless on the Moon since there is no atmosphere to generate the aerodynamic lift they require to fly. Internal combustion engines would be likewise as they would have to carry around both fuel and oxidizer (i.e. air) and there are issues with cooling in a near perfect vacuum that most normal engines are not adapted to. The primary method of transportation has been (battery-powered) lunar rovers, three of which are still stranded at Mons Hadley, the Descartes Highland and the Taurus-Littrow valley. Whether they still are in any workable condition or can be brought into one with limited repairs is not known.

Gravity on the Moon's surface is only one-sixth of that on the Earth, which compensates in part for having to wear a bulky pressurized spacesuit. Most of the Apollo astronauts have "walked" in a rather peculiar half-jumping fashion that is only possible due to the lower gravity and appears to be the best form of locomotion due to the somewhat motorically limiting nature of a space-suit.

Due to several considerations (lack of air, low gravity, no energy resources apart from sunlight) magnetic levitation railways have been proposed as a possible method of transportation once a moonbase (or several) is established. However, the plans for moonbases that exist are not detailed enough to include such features.


A map of the Moon from NASA, with labels for many geographic features and landing sites (click to enlarge)

NASA's Moon Trek mapping application has extensive information, images, and tools to help you plan a mission or just learn about the Moon. Google Moon also provides a vaguely decent map of the Moon, with information and labels for past landing sites.


  • Luna 2, Exact location unknown (near Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus craters). The first man-made object to reach the Moon.
  • Earth. Visible from only one side of the Moon. It looks like what the Moon looks like on Earth; there are full earths, crescent earths, and new earths! However, contrary to popular misconceptions, if you don't move you will only ever see the Earth in the same place and no such thing as an "earthrise". Another difference is that the landscape of Earth changes, as clouds drift around – and as the Earth rotates.
  • Dark Side of the Moon. Visit the part of the Moon that is not visible from the Earth. However, it is said "there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it's all dark". (The real truth is that it's lit half the time: the same time that the side facing Earth is dark.) We have satellite images, but only the Apollo astronauts who circled the moon have ever seen it with their own eyes. Only one mission has ever landed or attempted to land there, the 2019 unmanned Chinese mission Chang'e 4, which required a communication satellite to be launched into orbit around the Moon first.

Apollo landing sites[edit]

  • Mare Tranquillitatis (Apollo 11 Landing Site), The Sea of Tranquility (near Sabine and Ritter craters). The location of the first manned Moon landing. On July 21, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" E. Aldrin set foot on the Moon to become the first humans to ever touch another celestial body. Look for the American flag that was knocked over by the exhaust of the departing ascent stage of Eagle, the lunar lander, and the television camera left behind. Try not to disturb the footprints in the soil — due to the lack of an atmosphere and erosion, the footprints will likely remain as they are, completely undisturbed, for millions of years to come. Lastly, try to find the plaque on the remaining descent stage of the lunar lander, which contains the names and signatures of the crew of Apollo 11, then–U.S. President Richard Nixon, and a message commemorating the location as being where the first landing took place.
  • Oceanus Procellarum (Apollo 12 Landing Site). The location of the second manned moon landing, Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms) is also the location of the Surveyor 3 unmanned space probe, the only space probe to have landed on another planet and had parts of it returned to the Earth.
  • Fra Mauro Highlands (Apollo 14 Landing Site). The location of the third manned Moon landing, the Fra Mauro Highlands contain the massive, 80-km-diameter crater of the same name within. Also the location of Alan Shepard's impromptu golf excursion, if you're one for putting.
  • Hadley Rille (Apollo 15 Landing Site). The location of the fourth manned moon landing, the Hadley Rille is located within an expanse of the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) known as the Palus Putredinus (Marsh of Decay). Maria (plural of mare, Latin for "sea") are the areas on the moon that are dark grey in coloration. The location of the first Lunar Roving Vehicle (the Lunar Rover for short) is here. Also the location of the Fallen Astronaut, a small plaque and aluminum sculpture, placed face down in the regolith by the crew of Apollo 15, that commemorates the 8 American astronauts and 6 Soviet cosmonauts who had lost their lives up to late July/August 1971.
  • Descartes Highlands (Apollo 16 Landing Site). The location of the fifth manned Moon landing and the second of the three Lunar Roving Vehicles. Look for large rocks to take home; this was the site where the largest rock returned by the Apollo missions, nicknamed "Big Muley", was found. Also, look for "House Rock", a massive formation taller than a four-story building, in the vicinity of the landing site. Lastly, look for the family photo of astronaut Charlie Duke that he left behind on the surface.
  • Taurus-Littrow (Apollo 17 Landing Site). The location of the sixth and (thus far) final manned Moon landing, Taurus-Littrow is a massive valley located in the Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity), and named for the nearby Taurus range of lunar peaks and the Littrow crater. Look for the famed orange volcanic soil that was discovered on the moon here, and the third and final Lunar Roving Vehicle. Also, look for "TDC" etched into the lunar regolith by Gene Cernan in honor of his then-nine-year-old daughter, Tracy. As with everything else on the moon, this will likely last for millions of years due to the lack of erosion and atmosphere.


  • Think of something profound to say on your arrival.
  • Rock collecting is the most obvious hobby, and it's easy to do since the Moon is one giant rock. Dust collecting is also a favorite among tourists.
  • Plant your nation's flag on the lunar surface. Be sure to take plenty of photographs to show to the folks back home.
  • Play golf. There are no established golf courses available, but the Moon does provide you with an excellent opportunity to practice your sand trap shots.
  • The moonwalk. Could be tricky in a space-suit, but there is no better place to do it.
  • Have fun jumping around with the low gravity.
  • Take lots of pictures. Make sure you use a specially designed camera that can be operated with the bulky gloves that are usually part of a space-suit.
  • Astronomy on the moon is most likely great. While you can't see any stars in broad daylight on the moon either, the lack of atmosphere means no twinkling and no obstructions and given that there is no artificial light or radio interference from Earth, there have been serious proposals to establish an observatory on the back side of the Moon.


While ancient legends on Earth report the reflection of the Moon to appear as a wheel of green cheese, there are no restaurants or shops available on the Moon and therefore no food service amenities and no moon pies. Take all the food you need with you. Astronaut food has been called incredibly bland, but then again so has airline food.


"Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day. Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker..."

There is some amount of water across much of the surface of the Moon in the form of ice, but it is unclear how easy it is to access.

Thus far, all manned missions have brought their needed water with them. The modern International Space Station has some water reclamation capability, but missions in the Apollo era did not. Due to its weight, water is expensive and costly to transport but there is no viable alternative. Any long term stay will have to rely on recycling water in some fashion.


The next phase of lunar exploration will probably involve the construction of permanent manned bases in the Moon's polar regions. In the meantime accommodation is limited to what you bring. The lunar landers of the Apollo program have all been equipped to be used for sleeping, so chances are whatever you land in will be as well.

Stay safe[edit]

The moon is subject to international law under the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty (although none of the major space-faring nations have ratified the latter, so its applicability is questionable). Among other things, the Outer Space Treaty puts the responsibility of any man-made object with the state that launched it (a malfunctioning Soviet satellite named Kosmos 954 spread radioactive material all over northern Canada in 1978, for which the Soviet government eventually paid CAD3 million), so check with the laws of the government where you will be launched from.

Space however is generally inhospitable and this will become all too apparent once you leave the comforts of Earth. In addition to the obvious problems of freezing cold temperatures and the lack of a breathable atmosphere, in order to stay alive you will have to take precautions against:

  • Solar storms and cosmic rays (there is no magnetic field to deflect these high energy particles)
  • Meteor impacts (there is no atmosphere to burn them before they impact the surface)

Bear in mind that the temperatures also go well below freezing if you are not in direct sunlight. If you are, you run the risk of skin cancer.

Stay healthy[edit]

There are no hospitals or emergency medical facilities on the Moon and communication with emergency services on the Earth are almost pointless and slow. Oxygen deficiency may also be a problem. However, there are no native infectious diseases on the Moon and neither are there pests, such as mosquitoes or tour touts. Make sure you maintain strict hygiene with everything you bring to keep it that way. If any medical emergency does arise, the nearest substantial healthcare provider is at least 3 days away - and you have to go to them, they aren't coming to you. On the plus side, it's been shown that microgravity and a pure oxygen environment (which you may be breathing in) is beneficial to the body to some extent when high stress on the cardiovascular system is detected.


Communications back to Earth, as deployed for the Apollo missions, are primitive but usable. Slow-scan television (SSTV) lunar transmissions must share communication bandwidth with telemetry data. Image data from the five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft is transmitted to Earth stations "M" (Madrid, Spain), "W" (Woomera, Australia) and "G" (Goldstone, California) and logged to tape. As real-time conversions from SSTV format for live broadcast on Earth were little more than primitive screenshots, by the time that the July 21, 1969 moonwalk gets uploaded to YouTube substantial losses in image quality are visible.

Transmission from lunar rover via a Command Service Module in lunar orbit to Earth is infeasible for visitors to the lunar poles or the dark side of the Moon, as line-of-sight transmission to Earth is simply not available. A 2008 NASA proposal advocates lunar-orbiting satellites as a workaround but no system has been deployed.

A postmark exists for "United States on the Moon", a rare one-of-a-kind collector item. A matching pair of 8¢ stamps were issued by USPS with captions "United States in Space", "A decade of achievement". The mail pouch is stored under Apollo 15 commander David Scott's seat on the lunar rover, last seen around Hadley Rille on August 2, 1971. Be sure to send or bring back a few moon dust covered postcards as souvenirs.

Plans for establishing a 4G network by 2019 are in place. Yes, really! It's being launched in order to allow lunar exploration vehicles to communicate with each other, and to transmit HD video of the Moon's surface back to Earth.

Go next[edit]

  • Earth
  • Space. Due to the lower gravity the moon has been considered a good starting point for exploration beyond as the amount of fuel to get an amount of payload into orbit is lower than from Earth's surface.
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